In the first half, Chris Wondolowski had a pair of near headers for a goal, and misbehavior kingpin Jermaine Jones kept his temper just enough to avoid a 43rd-minute discipline. Those instances, along with USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann working in all six of his substitutions for some valuable experience, were the best things going for the initial 75 minutes of the USA’s 2-0 win over Azerbaijan on Tuesday night.
Until Mix Diskerud (the first player not named Landon Donovan to wear No. 10 since Claudio Reyna) ping-ponged a busy set piece effort off Azerbaijan keeper Kamran Agayev in the 75th minute, things looked frightening — if not disastrous. During the opening 75 minutes of the first of three World Cup warm-ups, the USMNT looked to be a certain bottom-feeder in the 2014 edition of the group of death. The USA controlled the pace against Azerbaijani, but could not get off any shot attempts worthy of shaking Agayev’s boots.
Midfield play helped create what chances did come, but the midfield is the farthest issue for this team going forward. Striker Jozy Altidore, one of five World Cup veterans on the 2014 team and owner of one meager goal in 30 appearances at Sunderland, would have benefited from a strong performance against undermatched opposition. Instead, he did not get a worthy touch until the 65th minute, and his strike was not within range of the net.
Much of the displeasure with Tuesday’s performance did not have anything to do with the Americans, but rather the choice of opposition. Klinsmann has only 270 short minutes of actual game time to gear his guys up for Brazil. One third of that was wasted playing the former USSR republic of 9.5 million that has not come anywhere close to qualifying for a major international tournament.
The defense that started a favorable back four of DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, and Fabian Johnson was hardly tested, and gave no real assessment of how this unit can play against true competition.
A 2-0 win by the Americans on their home soil was to be expected in a contest like this, even if you are working in the maximum 17 players. Azerbaijan brought nothing to replicate the tendencies that a Germany, Portugal, or Ghana will feature. The overwhelming majority of their roster plays in the Azerbaijan Premier League, ranked 32nd in Europe by UEFA, and their leading scorer on the roster, Vagif Javadov, did not even have a club team for last season.
It was not really a warm-up as much as it was a buddy-buddy meeting between Klinsmann and his old national team coach Berti Vogts until Vogts joins the U.S. Soccer payroll as a scout.
Other than that, the U.S. can just take the result and move on knowing that Clint Dempsey did not hurt himself further, Omar Gonzalez looked fit enough to be ready in a few weeks, and no other accident spouted off the dying grass of Candlestick Park. Fortunately, the next two exhibitions will feature teams in Turkey and Nigeria that can replicate the traits of Group G opposition and give fans a better idea of how the USMNT will fare when it counts.